A Nation in Debt
All Things Considered Series Explores America's Borrowing Culture

How much do you owe, and what's your plan to get back in the black? What does our love of credit cards say about Americans? Share your views with the rest of the NPR online community.

Chart of rising American debt
Chart showing the rise in consumer debt since 1997.

View full chart


How does your debt compare with other Americans? Check this chart showing U.S. consumer debt since 1980.

• Consumer credit information from the Federal Reserve Board.


Despite the recent rise in consumer borrowing, Americans still spend about the same fraction of their income on debt payments as they did 20 years ago. Even so, many people are digging themselves into a debt hole. Personal bankruptcies jumped 8 percent last year, to a record 1.5 million filings.


This and other NPR News series are available on CD.


Jan. 29-31, 2003 -- American consumers now owe about $1.7 trillion in credit card and other debts -- an amount roughly equal to the gross national product of England and Russia combined. On average, Americans spend most of what they earn, and in some cases, a little bit more.

In a multi-part series, All Things Considered investigates America's complex relationship with debt. In Part One, the series focuses on the financial and emotional toll excessive debt can create for families. Part Two examines the expanding role of home mortgages in the financial health of homeowners. And Part Three focuses on the use of personal financial histories in employment screening.

Learn more about each of the stories in this series, and return after each night's broadcast to listen to the stories online:

Listen Part One: Wednesday, Jan. 29.

Debt and the Family -- NPR's Scott Horsley profiles a family working its way out from under a massive amount of credit card debt.
The Collector -- All Things Considered guest host Lynn Neary profiles Michelle Dunn, who makes her living collecting unpaid debts in a small town in New Hampshire.
Commentary -- Olivia Mellan discusses her role as a therapist, counseling couples in trouble with debt.

Listen Part Two: Thursday, Jan. 30.

Borrowing from the Home -- NPR's John Ydstie looks at the expanding role of home mortgage lending in American financial life.
Our Borrowing Culture, Part One -- All Things Considered guest host Lynn Neary talks with sociologist Robert Manning about the history of consumer debt in the United States.
Commentary -- Michael Ivey makes a humorous plea to the pharmaceutical industry for help staying away from his credit cards.

Listen Part Three: Friday, Jan. 31.

Jobs and Credit -- NPR's Chris Arnold looks at the use of credit reports by companies making hiring decisions.
Our Borrowing Culture, Part Two -- All Things Considered guest host Lynn Neary continues her conversation with sociologist Robert Manning about the changing nature of debt in America.
Commentary -- Kelly Willis says our willingness to take on debt highlights a positive part of the American character -- optimism.

Other Resources

• House affordability calculator from the Government National Mortgage Association (Ginnie Mae).

• Home equity credit loan advice from the Federal Trade Commission.

• Home equity loan tips from the Federal Citizen Information Center.

This article was brought to you by the Bank Fraud Victim Center.

Our mission is to educate homeowners about predatory lending practices, bank fraud and the legal options available to them. 

website: http://mortgage-home-loan-bank-fraud.com


We believe that if you don't know your rights, you don’t know your options.


Find out if you are a victim of predatory lending practices:




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